Maia Chaka’s NFL hire speaks louder than return of NFL’s social justice messaging.

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( During the NFL’s Week 1 game between the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers, the biggest storyline was former Jets first round pick and quarterback Sam Darnold playing against his former team the Jets, months after they traded him and drafted his replacement, Zach Wilson, with the second overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. It is reasonable that most NFL fans were not focused on the referees and officials working the game but there was significant history made there. Maia Chaka became the first Black woman to officiate a National Football League game.

Maia Chaka’s place on an NFL field is a positive note for the NFL that has faced deserved backlash on many racial issues from the “whiteballing” of Colin Kaepernick due to his national anthem protest to its failures with the lack of Black head coaches and general managers and other NFL failings regarding race. During the year 2020, the uprisings and protests due to the murders by the police of unarmed Black people such as George Floyd led to companies to display some sort of “solidarity”. Among the things the NFL did was put social justice messages on its fields, and allow players to wear social justice messages on their helmets. In what could be considered a mild surprise, the NFL is “running back” social justice messages on helmets and fields for the 2021 season. There are many reasons why Chaka’s work on the field is more impressive than the NFL’s social justice messaging.

Maia Chaka’s NFL hire

There is no doubt that media and messaging is important. There is a reason why companies spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl commercials. The NFL’s social justice messaging in 2020 is better than “nothing” but not adequate enough for the most popular professional North American sports league.  Every end zone on an NFL football field features the “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” phrases stenciled into the back white line. Those two phrases are not strong ones against systematic or structural racism and discrimination. The NFL players have more impact phrases to choose to put on their helmet in one of six phrases: End Racism, Stop Hate, It Takes All of Us, Inspire Change, Say Their Stories, Black Lives Matter. Out of those phrases, only “Black Lives Matter” has the ability to articulate some larger societal message behind it. The other phrases are relatively “safe” and there shouldn’t be no mincing of words in denouncing systematic racism.

Football fans are aware that Sarah Thomas has been the NFL’s first female official in its history since her debut in 2015. Interestingly, in 2014, Chaka and Thomas were selected for the NFL’s Officiating Development Program. It took Chaka longer to get a chance in the NFL compared to Thomas. Chaka was just the third on-field female official in the NFL after Thomas and Shannon Eastin, both of whom are white women. Like a lot of things in society, Black women are treated differently than white women in terms of career opportunities. Chaka remained persistent in her pursuit of being on an NFL field and is understanding of the history behind her position. Regarding becoming the NFL’s first Black female official, Chaka said, “It’s an accomplishment for all women, my community and for my culture. I just think it’s great just to have more representation, positive representation of women of color. That’s real important, especially for the young girls growing up, just to see as much positive representation as they can.” The NFL has become as popular as ever to women of all backgrounds and Chaka being on the field does show that Black women can take part in the sport like white women are with more progression to come.

Staff Writer; Mark Hines